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Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009

Set Design Undermines Florentine Opera’s ‘Tosca’

Classical Review

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I have never experienced an opera performance more undermined by poor set design than the Florentine Opera Tosca production that opened last Friday evening. Noele Stollmack’s set consisted of an uncomfortably steep raked platform, vast drab spaces in dark colors, and little else. Chic contemporary minimalism simply did not work here. Sometimes less is not more.

Dean Anthony’s direction attempted to use all that space in scenes that needed intimacy or menace, but awkwardness sometimes resulted. Scarpia’s interrogation scene was not helped by supporting players who looked less than threatening. Getting Scarpia’s stabbed body over the lighted grate in the floor was too effortful and too obvious an aim, detracting from the spontaneity of the moment.

Todd Thomas’ Scarpia was a standout performance. I’ve seen scarier Scarpias who quietly seethe with arrogant power, but Thomas’ extroverted, impassioned interpretation was fascinating throughout. As Tosca, Cynthia Lawrence was convincing dramatically and vocally best when she sang with line in her voice. Her driven, over-sung high notes were not flattering. Renzo Zulian has exciting Italianate sound just right for Puccini, but his Cavaradossi was two-dimensional and sometimes musically unsatisfying. Todd Levy set up real emotion in the famous clarinet solo introduction for his last act aria; Zulian negated the mood with inexact, rushed singing.